by Josh Jensen
reviewed on PS3
The Focus (cntd.)
In the past, as in Final Fantasy X, you had one character who mainly performed summoning and white magic, one who specialized in black magic, one in ranged... you get the idea. In this game, however, you no longer spend time during a fight exiting characters and bringing others in. No, the 2-3 characters you enter battle with are the 2-3 with whom you win or die. The strategic side of battle enters by your choosing the correct team and the proper Paradigms. A Paradigm is the word given for a set combination of 3 roles. For instance, if you want a healer while attacking with physical and elemental, you would comprise a Paradigm of "COM/RAV/MED". You can have up to 6 paradigms for your party, but you need to remake them each time the party is changed.
This can become difficult, because sometimes you're being barraged by enemies faster than just one ally can heal, so you may want a Paradigm of more than one Medic, or one with a Sentinel and a Medic, so the damage is taken in smaller amounts by only the Sentinel, while the party is healed by a Medic. It is normal to switch between Paradigms several (and I mean several) times throughout a battle, in what is called a Paradigm Shift.
This is necessary to stagger your opponent, which multiplies damage, making them easier to defeat. The stagger gauge is filled by receiving Ravager attacks, though it continuously falls throughout the battle, so you need to make sure to keep a steady attack rate during the fight. Also, physical damage dealt by a Commando, though it hardly raises the gauge at all, will cause the meter to fall much more slowly, allowing for time to shift to defensive and healing Paradigms in between attacks.
For much of the game, your parties are chosen for you, so the making of Paradigms is crucial, and never loses its challenge. There were fights I had that lasted an hour because I died seven times, all because I forgot to include a certain Paradigm. Once I figured it out, the feeling of mental accomplishment was about as high as it could be towards a video game.
The game itself is rather linear, as was feared by so many leading up to the release of the game, but this is a great thing to me. It adds to an already gripping story. The characters' goals are set a few hours into the game, and from there on out, that's about it. There are no towns to visit. There is no free-roaming until you reach Gran Pulse, a wide open, beautiful area filled with monsters ripe for the killing. There are very few side-quests in this game. You are normally placed on a map with a target area to walk to, which triggers a cut-scene. You walk to said target, fighting any enemies in your way. You repeat this a few times, and then a boss fight occurs. Yes, it is straight-forward, but this is beautiful game design which compliments the story, as I said.
Consider your answer to this question, before you bash the game's linearity: If your son, mom, dad, sister, or daughter was hauled away by the military for testing, and subsequently turned to crystal, and you set out on a steadfast mission with people who had the same goals, would you really be all that interested in helping insert-NPC-you've-never-met-before find her scarf for the extraordinary reward of $15? No. You are going to save your loved one, everyone else's problems be damned. The pointless exploration, while it is loads of fun, does not belong in this game. The level of determination conveyed by Square-Enix through Lightning, Snow, Sazh, Vanille, Fang, and Hope, is only multiplied by the game's tunnel-vision.
I will cut to the chase here - my experience with Final Fantasy XIII was one that I will not soon forget. It is one of the best I have ever played, if not the best. The voice acting and lack of the usual myriad of side-questing are the only things that keep this game from being perfect. But, since the story more than explains its tunnel vision, and the character development eventually makes you disregard the few vocal flaws within this magical gaming experience, I can easily let those flaws slide.
As I said before, if you hand over your $60 expecting non-linearity, you will be a disappointed consumer. If you hand over your $60 expecting an immersive, emotionally gripping tale, then hit the lights and turn up the volume, because if X, XI, and XII have all batted safely on base, then Final Fantasy XIII is without question your proverbial grand slam.
Jaw-dropping graphics and music, amazing story
Too much moaning!